Tag Archives: Museum of American Bird Art

Hotspot

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

 

Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, Newburyport on September 20, 2015

Shorebirds at the Boatramp, Joppa - at 72 dpi
If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that I made a brief post about Joppa Flats back in Mid-May, but I knew I wanted to spend more time at this exciting location. Most Massachusetts birders would agree that Plum Island, in Newburyport, is the No. 1 birding destination in the Commonwealth.  Joppa Flats Education Center on Newburyport Harbor is nearly unique among Mass Audubon properties in having NO trail system. Instead, Joppa serves as an education center and visitor support facility for this premier birding location. All visitors to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and other hotspots on Plum Island pass right by, (and usually make a stop) at the Joppa center. For the purposes of my residency, therefore, I am considering any work I do on Plum Island and Newburyport Harbor, a part of my visit to Joppa.

Shorebird Studies at the Boatramp, Newburyport - at 72 dpi

Shorebird Studies at the Boatramp, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

If you hit the tides right, the boatramp just down the shore from Joppa can be a good spot to watch shorebirds. The exposed flats in the harbor can teem with birds, and many come in close to forage along the edge of the marsh grass.

Dowitcher Flock - at 72 dpi

Dowitcher Flock, pencil and watercolor on Canson drawing paper, 8.5″ x 8.25″

Greater yellowlegs are abundant during my visit, as are short-billed dowitchers. Lesser yellowlegs are mixed in, along with some smaller peeps and plovers.   As the tide floods, the yellowlegs and dowitchers wade belly-deep in the strong current, leaving wakes behind them.

Greater Yellowlegs - at 72 dpi

Greater Yellowlegs, watercolor on Arches rough, 16.25″ x 12.25″

Perhaps the long stretch of warm, dry weather had something to do with the scarcity of birds out on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, today. Passerines were few and far between, although rarities like western tanager and Connecticut warbler were reportedly being seen by some lucky individuals. I DID encountered one modest wave of birds along the Marsh Loop Trial at Hellcat – two yellow warblers, a redstart and a magnolia warbler – duly noted in my sketchbook…

Fall Warblers at PRNWR - at 72 dpi

Fall Warblers at PRNWR, sketchbook page, 12″ x 8.25″

Illustrated Lecture with Artist Barry Van Dusen on 10/24

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Barry Van Dusen’s Shoreline at Long Pasture

On Saturday, October 24th at 3pm at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton, Barry Van Dusen will give an illustrated lecture on his latest and most ambitious Artist-in-Residency project yet: during a 22-month period, Barry will visit at least 45 Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries, producing drawings and paintings at each location.

Barry is currently about halfway through the project, having visited 23 properties and produced over 50 watercolors, traveling more than 1,000 miles around the state from the foothills of the Berkshires to the Upper Cape.

In this one-hour illustrated talk, Barry will share stories and paintings from his previous residencies, and describe his Artist-in-Residency project at Mass Audubon.

You’ll hear about his adventures exploring Mass Audubon properties all around the state, and learn more about the approach Barry uses to meet the demands and challenges of working on location.  A selection of the original watercolors he has produced for the project will be on temporary display.  Learn more about the lecture

Barry has a long association with Mass Audubon as an illustrator for our publications for nearly 30 years.  Beyond his remarkable illustration work, he has established himself as an internationally recognized fine artist focusing on the natural world and most often birds.

Barry brings this rich experience to the task of capturing compelling natural history moments at Mass Audubon’s treasured sanctuaries.  Fellow artist James Coe says, “Barry Van Dusen’s paintings are among the most original works being created today. Every perfect
gesture; each lively glint in a bird’s eye is there because Barry observed that in nature.”

Learn more

Of Time and the River

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Hampden on August 28, 2015

Thirty years ago, I had my first solo show of nature art at a wildlife sanctuary near Springfield, Massachusetts called Laughing Brook. Back then, Laughing Brook was a fully staffed sanctuary, with a large visitor center and a “zoo” of native animals.
So, it’s understandable that when I pulled into the parking lot this morning, a flood of memories accompanied me, although very little was as I remembered it. The visitor center was gone; as were the animal enclosures, and even the trails and parking area seemed strangely out of place.
Laughing Brook’s history is one of floods and fires that I don’t need to recount here, but in short, the “zoo” was closed down in the 1990s and the visitor center demolished after a fire in 2004, converting the location to an unstaffed property. As recently as 2005, another major flood washed away trails and much of the parking lot. No wonder I didn’t recognize the place!

East Brook at Laughing Brook
But as much as things have changed, some things remain the same. East Brook, that so inspired the writings of Thornton Burgess, still tumbles clear over golden gravel bars and threads in and out of mysterious tangled roots along the banks. Kingfishers still flash along the stream corridor and dragonflies still dance in the shafts of light sifting down through the forest canopy. It’s a reminder that buildings, trails, parking lots, meadows and ponds may come and go, but rivers are as old as the mountains.

At the pond off the Mort and Helen Bates Trail, I tried to approach some blooming arrowhead along the shore. Most of the arrowhead plants were past blooming, and I never did find a blossoming specimen close enough to paint, but in the process I flushed a bird from the undergrowth that flew up into the lower branches of a weeping willow.

Northern Waterthrush Studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of Northern Waterthrush, pencil, 10″ x 6″

It was a handsome northern waterthrush, and with my binoculars I got good enough looks to make some quick sketches in my sketchbook. Later in my studio, I used these sketches to develop this watercolor.

Northern Waterthrush in Willow - at 72 dpi

Northern Waterthrush in Willow, watercolor on Arches rough, 14.25″ x 10.25″

There are many spots along the East Brook Trail where one can take little spur paths down to the edge of the brook, and in these low-water conditions, it was even possible to walk right into the streambed (and still keep your feet dry) by picking along the gravel bars or hopping from rock to rock. I settled down in one such location and made an exploration of the gentle pools and riffles.
Blacknose dace are abundant in the stream, ranging in size from 5/8” to 2” long, and water striders patrol the water’s surface, casting those strange geometric shadows on the streambed. I make studies of both in my sketchbooks, and combined the two species later in this studio watercolor.

Water Striders and Dace - at 72 dpi

Water Striders and Dace, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

Caddisflies of various species are also in abundance. The soft-bodied larvae of caddisflies construct little shelters or “cases” that they live in, and each species makes a distinctive type of case using sand, pebbles or twigs. Some of the smaller species build cases that look like little clusters of pebbles attached to the underwater rocks – and these could be easily overlooked. Other species build elaborate twigs cases up to 2 inches long that are easy to spot in the stream bed. Held in the hand, the larvae will sometimes emerge from one end and wave their legs around.

Caddisfly Larvae, etc - at 72 dpi Grayscale

Sketchbook studies at East Brook, pencil, 9″ x 6″

A big glacial erratic called “Split Rock” is worth a quick detour off the upper stretches of the East Brook Trail. From one angle the boulder looks just like a sperm whale, with open mouth, rising up out of the deep!

Split Rock at Laughing Brrok - at 72 dpi
Heading back to the car, I stop once more at the pond and notice a young heron perched in the big dead tree on the far shore. With a scope, it’s an excellent view of the bird, and I can’t help but try making some studies. It looks like the bird will stay put for a while, and indeed it does – giving me time to make some detailed studies of the birds expressive face and head.

Young Heron at Laughing Brook - at 72 dpi

Young Heron head studies, pencil and watercolor on Canson drawing paper, 8.5″ x 9.5″

 

The Great Marsh

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on August 16, 2015

I had hoped to get down to Cape Cod last week, but car troubles put my Toyota in the garage for a few days, and by the time I finally get underway a heat wave has settled over New England, with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s. To try and beat the heat, I get an early start and arrive at Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary by 7:30 am.
A short hike through a forest of oak, cedar, cherries and pines brings me to a small clearing next to an abandoned cabin. A break in the foliage here supplies an elevated view of the marsh, with a backdrop of Sandy Neck in the distance. The Barnstable Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh on Cape Cod, covering more than 3,000 acres.
The clearing is a nice shady spot at this time of the morning, so I set up my scope and pack chair. I spot an osprey, egrets, herons, laughing gulls and shorebirds out on the marsh, but they’re too distant to draw or paint, so I decide to do a landscape. With my 25x scope I can “project myself” out onto the marsh, bringing the dunes of Sandy Neck much closer, and this makes for an appealing composition.

Work in Progress at Barnstable Great Marsh (small)

…the first washes set out to dry in the sun

As I start to lay down the first washes of color I realize that the very high humidity is going to have an effect on my painting. High humidity can be both a blessing and a curse to the watercolorist. The washes of color dry very slowly, so there’s more time to develop the wet passages. I can take my time developing smooth color gradations and soft edges – things which I usually have to hurry with before the paper dries. At some point, however, I need those first washes to dry, so I can paint additional layers over them (what watercolorists refer to as glazing.) Today, it’s taking FOREVER for those first washes to dry! I lay my half-finished painting on a bush in the sun, and wander down the path to the edge of the marsh.  By the time I return to the clearing the washes have finally dried and I can get on with my work. As I’m painting with the scope, small birds zip back and forth through my field of view – swallows – and as a final touch, I add them to my painting.

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh 2 - at 72 dpi

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Next, I move down to the edge of the marsh to do some studies of some of the plants I’d noticed there. Growing out on the marsh is an attractive flowering plant that I later identify as saltmarsh fleabane.

Salt-marsh Fleabane at Barnstable Gr Marsh (small)

I’m also intrigued by the bulrushes growing where the woods give way to the marsh grasses. These are robust, 4-foot tall grasses with long curving blades and heavy clusters of cone-shaped seed heads.

Softstem Bulrush - at 72 dpi

Softstem Bulrush, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 11.25″ x 9″

It’s getting pretty hot, now, especially in the sun, so I do some exploring along the the shady trails of the sanctuary. I flush a green heron at Otter Pond, and then find a superb stand of cardinal flowers at the outflow of spring-fed Cooper Pond. I had not expected to find cardinal flowers growing wild on Cape Cod, since I most often encounter them far from the coast along cool, tumbling streams in upland forests. But they seem quite happy here, with a second handsome cluster of plants growing further west along the shore. Unfortunately the flower stalks are surrounded on all sides by a thick growth of poison ivy, so I content myself to do some drawing from a distance thru my telescope, and complete this watercolor later in my studio.

Cardinal Flower at Barnstable Gr Marsh 4 - at 72 dpi

Cardinal Flower, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 14″ x 10″

On my way back to the car, I stop to marvel at a wildly contorted cherry tree growing along the trail. In one place the limbs of the tree seem to have tied themselves into a big knot! It deserves, and gets, a study in my sketchbook.

Contorted Cherry Tree at Barnstable Gr Marsh - at 72 dpi

Cherry Tree at Barnstable Great Marsh, pencil study, 8.5″ x8.5″

Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies:

Wet Feet in Bear Country, Part 2

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Plainfield on July 19, 2015

After finishing up with the orchids, I head back to the car and dry out my feet as best I can before heading over to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary trail head on Prospect Street. As I’m assembling my gear to hike the trails, I hear a commotion in the woods across the street, and a young bear pokes its head out of the thick roadside vegetation and looks straight at me! I must look threatening because the animal makes a hasty retreat back into the woods, only to circle around and do the same routine again! The bear clearly wants to cross the road, but after its second retreat it must have decided to cross elsewhere. The bear was not a cub, but about the size of a German shepherd, and I paused to consider whether its mother might still be attending it. The fact that it made so much noise in the woods was re-assuring, since it would be unlikely to take me by surprise if I encounter it again.
Hiking the East Slope Loop Trail I notice that many of the beech trees are suffering from beech bark disease, and I later read on the orientation panel that this disease is contributing to the decline of beeches in the area.

Beech Bark Disease - West Mountain (small)

Attractive lady ferns line the trail, and in some places the forest floor is covered with a thick growth of hobblebush shoots. I stop to make a watercolor study of the hobblebush, since I love the soft orangey-tan buds, which rise like candle flames from the tip of each twig.  I’m also intrigued by the way the color of the new wood is distinctly different from the old.

Hobblebush, West Mountain - at 72 dpi

Hobblebush Study, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

The trail follows alongside two lovely, tumbling brooks and through a hemlock forest – where I’m serenaded by black-throated green warblers and hermit thrushes.

Mountain Brook at West Mountain (small)

BTG Warbler study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 4″ x 5″

 

Wet Feet In Bear Country, Part 1

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

I receive a tip from Ron Wolanin on Thursday that smaller purple fringed orchids are blooming at West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield. Ron travels to many of the unstaffed central Massachusetts sanctuaries on a weekly basis, and his insider knowledge has been invaluable for my project. I leave Princeton early on the following Sunday, arriving at West Mountain by 8:15 am – already a warm and very humid day. I have no trouble locating the spot Ron has directed me to. Ron had warned me that the meadow was wet, so I’ve brought along an inexpensive pair of rubber wellies.

Purple-fringed Orchis sketchbook page - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

The orchids are SPECTACULAR! I note about two dozen plants in various stages of blooming.  The small, delicate blossoms take close scrutiny to understand their form and structure, and I get to work with my sketchbook. The flower cluster is a true spike (not a raceme), with blossoms attached directly to the straight, trunk-like stem.  The colors of the blossoms vary from a pale pink to a deep magenta purple, and I record these variations with color swatches in my sketchbook. I want to record these colors accurately (since they are often distorted in photos) and at the same time, figure out which pigments in my watercolor box will best match the blossoms.

Purple-fringed Orchis 2 (purple) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis I, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

Purple-fringed Orchis 1 (pink) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis II, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

I’m standing (or rather squatting) ankle deep in water, and have propped my pack chair in a nearby woody shrub to keep paper and materials dry. A water cup seems beside-the-point, and I simply dip my brush in the water at my feet. After painting for a while in this squatting position, I feel my left boot starting to leak and by the time I finish, my foot and sock are soaking wet. NOTE TO SELF: buy a better pair of wellies and bring extra socks next time!

Swamp sparrows are sounding off all around me, and tee-ing up occasionally on low snags. At one point a willow flycatcher moves through, giving me fine, eye-level views, and I take some notes and make a quick sketch of it.

Willow Flycatcher sketchbook study - West Mtn- at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, 5″ x 6.5″

 

Acclaimed Bird Artists Visit A Naturalist’s Eden

A group of bird artists gathered at MABA yesterday to revel in—and draw inspiration from—the artistry of Don Eckelberry’s watercolors, now on exhibit.

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Left to right: Lucia deLeiris, Rob Braunfield, Jim Coe, Al Gilbert, Cindy House, Gigi Hopkins, Barry Van Dusen, Mike DiGiorgio

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The artists taking in the Don Eckelberry Exhibition

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Left to right: Julie Zickefoose and MABA director Amy Montague

 

Barry Van Dusen sharing his amazing collection of art from his residency at the Museum of American Bird Art

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Connecting Art with Nature: Highlights from our Wild Photography Week

Campers have been having a great week during the Wild Photography Camp session. We’ve been having lots of fun learning about photography, creating art, and exploring the sanctuary. Check out our post on the campers building the cameras. Here are the top moments from the week:

Moment #1: Painting with light (seriously)

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Moment #3: Silkscreen and watercolor of an Audubon Owl Print

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Moment #3: Nature hikes and photo scavenger hunts

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Moment #4: Collagraphic printmaking with natural materials

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Moment #5: Creating paintbrushes out of natural materials to paint a wall mural

 

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Moment #6: Creating Audubon prints and then visiting the permanent collection to learn more about printmaking

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Moment #7: Creating photo stories in the bird and pollinator garden

 

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Connecting art with nature: Top moments from the Take Flight (Week 2) Camp Session

Campers have been having a great week during the Take Flight session. We’ve been having lots of fun learning about birds, creating bird inspired art, and exploring the sanctuary. During the week, campers loved our visit from the internationally renowned Caterpillar Lab from Keene, New Hampshire, and printmaking workshop with the amazing Sherrie York. Here are the top moments from the week:

Moment #1: Fantastic Charcoal Drawings with our artist Katie Buchanan

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Moment #2: Collecting natural materials for leaf prints in their nature journal

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Moment #3: Nature Hikes and Scavenger Hunts

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Moment #4: Creating art using the process of suminagashi

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Moment #5: Visit from Sherrie York

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Moment #6: Excitement with the Caterpillar Lab

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